I lifted the green tab on the mini-keg of Heineken and watched my highball glass fill quickly. Brian was tuning my bass guitar for Radioheads’ The National Anthem, so we could play Kid A in its entirety at our next show in McReary’s, a dive bar off the highway next to a cornfield. This early 2000s prog rock cover band was a joke, and our lead singer, Brian, was the only one not in on it. Such passion, but full of naivety with an overabundance of personal investment. We drew straws in private. I got shorted with the responsibility of announcing the break up. To ensure this, the other members didn’t even show up for the last practice at my place before McReary’s. Could have been coincidence, but I knew better.
“Does this sound right?” he asks as I carefully watch the rising gold foam fill the tilted glass to ensure no drops would be left behind. Brian plucked away at the bass guitar he had given to me as a gift for my last birthday. The bass notes boom and resonate throughout my basement. Satisfied with the amount in the highball, I listen and look at the posters hanging on the white walls - Vintage World War II calls for enlistments, Star Wars, classic rock bands, Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness.
I studied the white Radiohead poster with bold text and abstract images that seemed distant, cold, lost. I notice the text of lyrics from one of their songs. The word “Comfortable” stuck out more than the others in ironic black, bolded capitalization.
“How was that?” Brian asked, brushing aside his long, dark hair.
“Oh, shit. Sorry, man. I’m too distracted. Start again.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “Alright, but drink up, catch up and get on your kit.”
After a couple gulps, I set my drink down on the Canadian Club coaster on top of one of the speakers. I grabbed the sticks and waited for Brian to start. He plucked away. My eyes drifted around the room, settling on the rows of vinyl records containing The Ink Spots, Zeppelin, Dylan, Seger and everyone else in between. Next to the shelves of records stood a white sculpture of a stoic Thomas More staring back at me. Even with a pink pig hat atop his cap he looked great. For some reason I thought of the day he was beheaded, how he told his executioner, “See me safe up: for in my coming down, I can shift for myself.” The sense of humor before his final moments. Damn impressive and more confident than myself when facing the guillotine. I took another sip from my highball.
“You missed it again! What’s going on man?” Brian asked as he casually strung the strings on my bass, his eyes demanding an authentic answer.
“The other night…”
“What about it?”
“Kind of fucked up.”
“You were or the night was?”
“Wait. Was this when Samantha was over with her friends?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“Well, what about it?”
I picked up my highball and gulped several ounces down.
“Hey! That shit was expensive. Don’t waste it, man. Cherish,” Brian commanded with a point of his finger and several gulps from his glass. I want to say something about this immediate contradiction, but I hold back.
“Right. Well, her brother came over and drank. A lot.”
“Rick was here?!”
“Oh…Oh! Well, he’s always been a shitty drunk. So what happened?”
“Snuck off and drove home, only he never made it home.”
“Wait. Is he...?”
“So he fucked up. That’s not on you.”
“He drove through a fence, into someone’s house.”
“Huh,” Brian replied, looking off, methodically plucking away.
“Thank God nobody was hurt, but I just hope the police don’t ask him where he got the booze. You know?”
“Because that could come back to bite me in the ass.”
“I’ve been playing this intro all wrong! My tuning is all whack.”
Rolling my eyes, I stood, finished my highball and walked back to the Heineken mini-keg, The National Anthem playing behind me.
I stare at Mr. More. Help me out here. How do I begin this? Offering no answers, I fill my highball again and took a few pulls. Feeling more confident, or caring a little less, I sat on one of the speakers and unplugged my bass, quieting Brian’s finger work.
“Alright, what’s really on your mind?” he demanded.
I sighed and spoke up, “The other guys want to break up the band. That’s why they aren’t here.”
“Whoa! What the fuck?” Brian set my bass down and paced around the room, occasionally looking at me as if I alone had betrayed him. “Well, fuck ‘em. You’re here. We can be a two-piece.” Brian concluded.
“Yeah, to break up the band and be a two-piece? What are we a Simon and Garfunkel alt rock cover duo? No. Hell no.”
“So that’s it?”
Taking a drink and shrugging I tell him, “Guess so. Yeah.”
Brian cursed me and the other members while accusingly pointing drumsticks at me because the rest of us were “impatient motherfuckers who had no sonic ambition.” He went on a tirade about how close we were to funding our first record, how the studio was booked and the fee non-refundable. I remind him that the rest of us are no longer interested. Brian glares at me over the rim of his glass as he drinks and tilts it back until empty. He gently sets the glass down, takes a deep breath, snarls and charges at me.
He lifts me up on a run and we fall through the drum kit, busting through the tom-toms with a boom as the cymbals crash, roll, and echo in my ears. Wrestling around for a minute I manage to push him off of me, but only after an exchange of punches, elbows to my face, and knees to my side.
Standing up I stumble backwards as Brian rises from the destroyed kit and fallen speakers. I see my Warren Zevon records have been damaged in our struggle and push him back down with my foot into the cymbals.
I wipe my face with my torn shirt sleeve. Not much blood, some of it mine, but my face hurts like hell. I feel sick and lean over. I can’t tell the damage I have done to him, but he is sweaty and winded. I glance around and wonder if this was what the Gallagher Brothers’ fights were like; spilt beer, sweat, blood, broken instruments.
“How long?” he asked, getting up.
“How long have you guys been planning this?”
“Couple weeks,” I say, shaking my throbbing head. I dab the corner of my eye, finding another bruise.
Brian’s despondent look turns to anger once again as he shoves me. I fall backwards knocking into Thomas More and fall to the floor with him. His neck cracks open as his head slides across the room, but the pig hat stays on him.
“Shit!” Brian began apologizing. He’s unsure if he should fix the statue, leave, or help me up. He decides to help Thomas first, raising his body upright as I pick up the head. I set it on the roundtable in the center of the room. The basement is quiet for the first time since we came down. I notice how the room smells stale and musky.
“My bad,” he offers with a hands-in-pocket mumble and a guilty shrug, unable to look me in the eye. I walk over to the mini-keg and grab two new cups, pour, and hand Brian one with a laugh. He looks at me as if I was the one who just decapitated another.
Realizing he won’t form any words, I answer him, “Irony.”
His look remains the same, but I am not ready to explain the demise of Thomas More, while everything in the room is in such disrepair.
“You’re not mad?” he wonders aloud.
“Do you want me to be?”
“No. It’s just…I think we can make some really great music, man.”
I sigh. “Don’t you get it? You’re the only one who wants to keep doing this.”
Brian’s shoulders slouch as he sits defeated against the speakers. I would have felt bad, but my kit and Zevon records were destroyed, my head pulsating with ferocity, and I knew I had to deal with a broken statue of an ordained saint. I’m not exactly feeling like a merciful king right now.
“Nobody likes the style or direction we’re heading,” I say.
“So it’s not even worth a conversation?”
“I’m burned out on Radiohead, man. We all are.”
“So what do you guys want to play? I mean, we can change the sound, right?”
I think about this for a moment, not entirely opposed to the idea. “I can’t speak for them, but why not go for a more bluesy, garage rock sound? Bound to get more gigs that way.”
“Pub rock?” He asks acting offended.
“Is that a genre?”
“I don’t know,” Brian says as we laugh.
We’re quiet for a few minutes before he interrupts the silence. “Sorry about Tom.”
I glance at the head on the table. Tom’s countenance is the same as it was a few moments ago, confident with pig ears protruding above his head. Seems like it’s in poor taste, but people like it, not that they know who it is. “Bound to happen, right?”
“Huh?” He’s confused again.
We finish our drinks and he starts to clean up the basement’s wreckage. I stop him. “Look, if you want to give pub rock a try, I’m up for it. I can see if the other guys are too.”
He cheered up at this with a tired smile. I hope I don’t come to regret this.
“Oh, that’s great, man.” He let out a long breath.
We sat there without saying anything and listened to the hum of the humidifier in the corner, the rush of water in the overhead pipes.
“Look, man,” he started. “I wouldn’t worry about Steve though. He’s not going to say anything.”
“Of course. If he did, they would have spoken to you by now.”
I hoped he was right. I didn’t want to be outed as the brainchild behind his reckless driving. “I mean, he was pretty drunk, Brian. Probably doesn’t even remember where he got all that beer from.”
“Well, there you go.”
Brian looked around and walked back to the eviscerated drum kit.
“Leave it. Come on, Let’s go to McReary’s. The keg is empty anyway.”
“About the mess or the keg?”
“Yeah. Besides, I don’t mind cleaning up when I’m hungover.”
He looked a t me with another blank expression.
“Alright. Let’s just get out of here,” I say with a firm pat on his back. Brian heads up the stairs as I take another look around the biggest mess the basement has seen to date. I try and estimate the cost of damage, but stop when it hits four figures. I’m impressed at how much was broken, how much intact. Somehow the bass made it out fine. Can’t say the same for Tommy boy. I look at Thomas More, disembodied and on separate sides of the room. I wonder if I should reattach his head, but decide against it. If nothing else, it’ll be another point of conversation with guests. I run mock dialogue through my mind as I head up the stairs with Brian.
David Garvey is studying for his MA in Digital Publishing at the University of Illinois in Springfield. His work can be seen in the Alchemist Review.